Treebuster Doorbuster Sale

Today being that post-Thanksgiving-pre-Christmas-better-get-shopping-for-everyone-on-your-list Day, I knew I needed to head out the door.

But I’m a postpone-it-as-long-as-you-can type of shopper and so I didn’t get as early a start as I probably should have because I just wanted to hang out at home for a while.

A few hours later, however, I decided to join the crowd because I was pretty sure that the best deals worth my time and money awaited.

And, of course, they did. First there was the well-chiseled Pileated Woodpecker tree with a sign indicating I could save up to 50%. Into the cart it went. I was thinking perhaps JinMe might like this on her mantel.

Surely Faith and Sara will enjoy this ice sculpture–that is really a bunch of hidden pictures. I won’t let on how cheap it was, but even if I did, I suspect they wouldn’t care because, after all, it’s the thought that counts.

For Pam, there was that one-of-a-kind bird nest decorated with curly wisps of paper birch bark and enhanced with an acorn. I know she loves a mystery and suspect she’ll enjoy trying to figure out who created such, cup-shaped and located in the crotch of maple sapling.

For the other Pam, I put a limited-supply pond-scape photograph on layaway. It will serve as a memory of that day long ago that we passed by a barn, followed the S turns on a snowmobile trail, crossed over a number of water bars, looked for the point when the trail started to feel like we were descending rather than ascending, found a hemlock grove (or did we?), and looked for a sign we never saw, but decided to bushwhack instead to the edge of a certain pond. I couldn’t afford the entire price of the photo today, but with weekly payments, I should be able to wrap it in time to place it under her tree.

Four hours of shopping later and I was done in, not being much of a shop-till-you-drop person. I have so many others on my list, but in due time I’ll again force myself to join the crowds and snag further discounts and get something to show my appreciation for all.

I was just about to head to the check-out when I learned of a limited-supply item. You rarely find brand new products on sale so soon after being released, but there it was, a bear nest in a beech tree, that spot where a bear sits high up in the tree and snaps the branches to pull it inward in order to dine on beech nuts. I knew I had to get it for Bob. He really wants a partridge in a pear tree, but I think this doorbuster sale will suffice. Or maybe it’s a treebuster doorbuster sale. 😉

Cached In My Heart

I knew it was going to be a great day when snowflakes began to fall. And when asked the day before how I intended to spend yesterday, I said I’d probably read, bake, and knit. But . . . those plans were postponed for a few hours because that white stuff was falling and I heard it calling my name.

Thankfully, it was only my name that it called and for the first time since March, I stepped back into Pondicherry Park, a place that I love, but have intentionally avoided because so many others have discovered it as a tonic to the worries of the pandemic and I wanted to give them space, knowing I could find plenty of other places to explore with the same quest in mind. But . . . it was snowing, and I suspected that others might be home reading and baking and, well, maybe even knitting, and I would have the place to myself.

Soon, however, I discovered that I wasn’t really alone for even though the snow wasn’t piling up, tiny tracks on boardwalks indicated others were scampering about.

A few minutes into the hike, bright green moss invited me off trail to examine the base of pine where a hole beneath the tree . . .

and a cone still intact made me wonder: If this was the home of a little scamperer, what might it be eating other than this cone?

And then I twisted right–in more ways than one. And spread out along a downed pine and all around the base of another–a huge cache/midden: the cache being a collection of cones gathered and stored; and the midden being the refuse pile of scales and cobs left behind after the seeds were consumed.

I’ve been looking for one of these for a few weeks as the air temperature has dropped and wondered when the little guys would get their acts together and gather a supply to see them through winter.

One among them had, indeed, been busy, not only gathering, but dining, and with today being Thanksgiving, you might think this critter had the longest dining room table because it intended to invite everyone over for a meal.

But, its a feisty diner, and each meal is consumed quickly, with some chits and chats warning others to stay away–social distancing naturally.

Peeking under the dinner table, I discovered some cones tucked away in the pantry . . .

others in the fridge, with the door left open, thus exposing them to the elements . . .

and a few in cold storage.

On the other side of the pine table, holes in the midden showed the downstairs and upstairs doorways: all leading to Rome–or rather, the cache that must have been huge based on the size of the midden left behind. I did feel concern that so much had been consumed and there might not be enough for winter survival.

No need to worry. On the backside of the tree, three were tucked into furrows–making me think of a $20 bill stored away in a wallet, just in case.

My journey through the park eventually continued and meant a few pauses at favorite haunts, including one where the reflection nourishes my little friends . . . and me.

Occasionally more boardwalks curve through the landscape offering their own reflection–of this past year, which has taught us all that when there are curves in the road, we should follow and embrace them.

And if a hemlock grows beside a pine, it’s okay to cache your pinecone supply atop the former’s roots. You don’t always have do what the rest of us expect you to do.

Especially if you are the creator of the caches–a feisty Red Squirrel, ever ready to give chase to your siblings and chitter at any intruders such as me.

Of course, if you are a Gray Squirrel, you’ll take a different approach to winter preparations and store one acorn at a time and hope you remember where you left each one.

Three hours later, I finally found my way home, grateful that the stars had aligned, it had snowed, and I had the trails to myself. And then I began to bake, but never got around to reading or knitting or even writing this post for the phone kept ringing and there were envelopes and gifts to open, messages and emails galore to read, and cake to consume, and though we can’t be with our family or friends today, I gave thanks that on my birthday the squirrels let me share their world for a wee bit and I was showered with so much love–that I’ve cached in my heart.

All In A Flash

To feed or not to feed? That is not the question for I know I will continue to put out bird seed from now til April or May since it provides them with a constant food source and me with a constant entertainment source.

But still, things happen, like Gray Squirrels figure out how to access the squirrel-proof feeders.

And when I least expect it, everyone makes a mad dash because a bird of prey suddenly rockets in with talons extended.

I’d only placed the feeders in the yard a few days ago, but today this Cooper’s Hawk explained why I keep discovering feathers on the grass. Do you see the gray feathers by its talons? Tufted Titmouse? That makes me sad, but . . . raptors need to eat too.

Meanwhile, a female Northern Cardinal who had been feeding on the seed I spread on the ground tried to take cover in the grass. Notice how her crest is raised? I suspect it stood tall indicating her worry.

Even after the hawk flew off, she remained in the same spot. But, do you see the difference? The crest began to drop, perhaps because she began to relax.

I could almost hear her say, “If I don’t move, he won’t see me.”

About 15 minutes and lots of raindrops later, she finally perused the yard.

And let a few more raindrops gather on her feathers before flying off. I was grateful to see her fly, because for a while I worried that she had been injured in the fracas. My other thought was that she might be in shock. But, I think for now, until I learn more about bird behavior, I’ll stick with thinking she was playing it smart and waiting for danger to pass.

Two hours later, I spotted the hawk on our stonewall and later went out to search for feeding evidence as chipmunks and other small mammals are also part of their diet. I found only a couple of downy feathers where the bird had stood in the yard and nothing by the stonewall, but I suspect there may be something to notice in the future.

Today’s drama all happened in a flash and as odd as it may seem, I was grateful to be a witness.

All In A Day’s Walk

My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.

And so it was that on this brisk morning, snow-capped Mount Washington greeted me. If you zoom in, you might see the buildings at the summit.

Because I was at a different summit that I frequent, I knew I had to check on the activity of the local residents and wasn’t disappointed. First, I followed their trails, where leaves are well packed. Those led to trees, but no downed nip twigs as one might expect. That could only mean one thing–there are still plenty of acorns on the ground for them to eat. Because I was searching, however, I was thrilled to discover one sign that the season is changing. I knew that by the five layers I was wearing, but the stripped bark and cambium layer of a birch indicated the same. A porcupine’s diet varies with the offerings and part of their winter dining includes just this. Notice, too, the pattern of the incisor marks. Such a design thrills me no matter how often I encounter it.

One of the porky trails led into a crevice below where I stood. It was there that I caught the first glimpse of icicles and knew I had to climb down. My route wasn’t the same as the porcupine’s for I’m not quite as nimble on rocks and slippery leaves.

But, with grace, I descended and made the surprise discovery of Mount Rushmore East. At least, that’s how the rock faces looked to my eyes.

But seriously, I wanted to spy the icicles from below and they became the inspiration for next week’s GLLT Moment.

That wasn’t all I wanted to spy and I wasn’t disappointed for the trail of scat indicated one potential den site.

And more scat led to another. I suspect those aren’t the only two, but I wanted to keep moving, such was the temp.

That said, right beside the second porcupine den, I found a small hole in the ground capped in hoar frost and suspected that someone was inside. It seemed a bit larger than a chipmunk hole. Maybe a squirrel? Or a weasel? Or even, the porcupine’s den vent?

While those choices rolled around in my brain, I climbed up the ledges and made my way down the trail until it intersected with another. Eventually, water once again stopped me as it often does.

Only two weeks ago the temperatures in western Maine were in the 60˚s and 70˚s, but the past few days have been chilly and already dancing elephant legs are forming over sticks that dangle above moving streams.

Even the froth created by the friction of the stream’s movement had frozen in place.

I stopped a few more times, but finally reached the spot that was my second intention of the day. While exploring in this area a couple of week’s ago with several Greater Lovell Land Trust docents, we noticed beaver trees. The work looked rather recent and so we set up a game cam in hopes of getting a view of the perpetrator.

Today’s visit, however, showed no fresh work on this tree.

And a skim of ice indicated no one had recently walked out of the water. I snagged the camera and dropped it at the office so the photos can be downloaded. I hope they reveal more than a few test pics of us homo sapiens.

It was while heading back to my truck that this splash of color caught my attention. Notice the Striped Maple leaf on the mushroom–they are like a matched set. I’ve been torn in my identification between an Artist’s Conk and a Red-belted Polypore, whose belt is not always red.

But more important than identification was presentation. And the knowledge that the middle mushroom grew when the tree was still standing, while the others fruited after the tree had fallen, for mushrooms must always orient toward the ground, the better to spread one’s spores, of course.

My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?

How about now?

Surely now you can.

Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.

People versus Nature: who wins?

Artifacts. In the woods. A sign.

A sign of the past and the present. A sign of people. A sign of nature.

The people story may have ended 72 years ago in this space . . .

but the nature story continues with many interesting twists and turns along the way.

The people may have tried to defy nature . . .

but nature has a way, whether we like what emerges from it or not.

And figuring out the procession of the nature story, as much as some of it may not please us, is still intriguing.

People and nature.

People versus nature.

Who wins? In the end, nature reclaims her own as the lichens demonstrate on this quarried granite.

November By Surprise

I love November. Maybe because the first snowflakes typically fall. Maybe because the air is crisper (except for last week, that is). Maybe because the days are shorter and I love being embraced by darkness.

Maybe because the color palette is all its own after the reds and oranges and yellows of October and before the white and gray and evergreen of December.

Maybe because we might have one last chance to visit this special place before the gates are closed on the forest road for winter.

Maybe because we get to see Mergansers swim and dive and fly and slide into a landing over and over again.

Maybe because if we look closely, we might just spy a Bullfrog tadpole swimming.

Maybe because in the middle of our looking here, there, and everywhere for a moose, or some otters, or even a beaver family, we may suddenly spy a little red flyer.

No maybes about it because this Autumn Meadowhawk took a while, but eventually let me coax it onto my hand today. Why is it still flying? Maybe because we did have a warm up this past week, though the past two mornings Jack Frost has visited. Whatever the reason, it certainly took us by surprise on this November day.

NOTE: previously, the latest I’ve seen a meadowhawk fly was Nov 4, 2019.

Cascading Mondate

Yeah, so on Sunday my guy and I hiked about four miles all told and found three geocaches in the mix cuze he’s now hooked, which is fun on my end since it slows him down a wee bit.

And on Monday–almost eight miles covered. But it wasn’t the mileage that mattered. Really.

Our morning began beside still waters. Well, the water was hardly still, but considering how crowded the area can be on a summer day, it was a delight to be the only two human beings in that space for those moments.

It’s a cool spot on many levels. No, we didn’t slide into the pool below; nor did we jump off the 20-foot cliff. Rather, we stood in awe and appreciated. That is, after finding another geocache located nearby.

Eventually, we pulled ourselves away because there was more water to meet, though we were surprised to arrive at a closed gate. No signs forbid our trespass and so we walked around the gate, and up the dirt road to the parking area and kiosk. On the way, we could hear a machine being operated and wondered if we’d stumbled upon a logging operation. A few minutes further along, a young man with an easy grin pulled up in a pick-up truck and knowing that the gate behind us was closed, we figured he must have something to do with the property. Sure enough, he told us they were working on the roadway and bike path ahead. The gate is closed for hunting season, but will reopen in the winter. Still, we were welcomed to hike on.

Half a mile later, we slipped into the woods and left the machinery sounds behind.

Occasionally, we walked across bog bridges and into the future.

Looking down at our feet was a constant, given that there were lots of slippery beech leaves to contend with, but . . . beech leaves mean one thing: American Beech Trees. And much to our delight, smack dab beside the trail stood a well-used beech tree. Some of the claw scratches weren’t all that old, given the width of the scars, and though this year proved to be yet another mast year for Northern Red Oaks (is it just me, or have red oaks been producing acorns on a yearly basis for at least the past five years?) it wasn’t so for the beeches. But perhaps last year or the year before or maybe a few years ago, this tree was a magnet for Ursus americanus.

We could have turned around then for our hearts were delighted, but, of course, we didn’t and soon found ourselves beside a single-wide stone wall.

Barbed wire that a tree had grown around told us the wall was intended to keep animals in . . . or out, depending on your point of view.

Certainly the tree knew, and had we spent a few more minutes with it, I suspect it would have quietly shared more knowledge with us, but we were on a quest and knew we only had so much daylight left.

And so, we hiked on. Until we reached one rather large blow-down and wondered: if a tree falls in a forest . . . Our answer: it land on the ground. Presumably with a thump. And this one must have created a ground-shaking thump.

Not far above the tree, a fanciful picnic table graces a knoll, and invites all questers, including this guy, to pause.

He didn’t pause for long. Back on the trail, as we climbed higher, the naturally community did what it does, and changed. For a bit, the delightful aroma of Balsam Fir spurred us forward, both by our feet and by our thoughts of the holiday season to come.

At last we reached water, and I thought our quest might be over. Could this be what we sought? As much as I loved watching bubbles form and pop, I was rather disappointed.

But after crossing rocks to get to the other side, the fall coloration of Tiarella (Heartleaf Foamflower) in all its hairiness called for attention.

And then, as we entered an opening where pine saplings grew in the sun, one showed off its crosier-shaped leader–bent over as commanded by a pine weevil. The tree will grow, but the live whorl of branches below will take over as leaders and change its stature.

Did I mention that the natural community kept changing? My guy and I soon realized that that was one of the things we really enjoyed about the trail, for there was so much diversity. And just steps beyond the weeviled pine, we entered a beech stand, where you know who had lumbered before us.

As much as we knew we needed to keep moving, we couldn’t help but search and didn’t have to stare far off trail to see evidence of so many bear claw trees. We figured we spied at least 25, though ask me tomorrow and I may say 30. They were everywhere and we wondered how many more we had missed.

But . . . there was more to see and so down a portion of trail that the young man we’d met had created all on his own and opened only last week, did we tramp. It was so new that the ground practically sprang under our feet. Can ground sprang?

We’d reached our quest at last and had to hurry three plus miles back as quickly as possible, promising each other not to stop and recount the bear trees, and we emerged at the parking lot as the sun was setting, with only the half mile walk down the road to our truck left to complete.

Oh, but what was our quest? It wasn’t a geocache this time.

And it wasn’t the bear trees; though they were a bonus.

Rather, it was the water that cascaded forth in three locations on this Mondate and already has us dreaming of return visits–though on a day when we either begin hiking earlier or there’s more daylight so we don’t have to hike down in twilight.

Thank you, Rosemary Wiser, for hiking this trail before us and giving us the inspiration.

Treasuring The Hunt

My guy doesn’t make it easy to come up with birthday or Christmas gifts, but one thing I’ve learned over the years, and it’s taken me many years to figure such out, is that he loves a challenge. Especially when we’re hiking. So . . . there was the Amazing Race–our style and the Bear to Beer Possibilities and now . . . a birthday list of geocaching finds to seek. Or is it seek to find?

His birthday may have been almost a month ago, but we didn’t start our latest quest until today, a day that started and ended cold and blustery, but began in a place where a few Tamaracks shone of their autumn foliage. Why do I love these trees so? Perhaps because each time I see one I am taken by surprise.

Perhaps because they can’t decide who they are: deciduous or coniferous or a deciduous conifer? It’s the latter, for sure. What I appreciate most is the fact that it represents both. It rather reminds me of my brain where left and right meet on a Myers Briggs test and encompass the best (and sometimes worst) of both worlds.

But I digress, and so back to the trail. We followed two today, and one of our first finds was that tree we always covet. A bear-claw tree, this one a favorite and oft visited given the claw marks that decorated it.

Of course, as things go in the natural world, or any world for that matter, where one finds delight, there is also something not so delightful taking place. In this case, Beech Bark Disease that begins with many Beech scale insects feeding on the tree’s sap while they form a covering of white wooly wax over their body. The scales create wounds in the trunk that allow the nectria fungus to enter bark, cambial layer, and sapwood, thus producing cankers, or raised blisters and calluses.

As if that isn’t bad enough, because eventually it will kill the tree, tarry red spots ooze from the cankers like blood from wounds.

It would be so easy to spend our day looking for all the bad in the woods, but we chose to focus on better things as we moved forth and so to a wetland did we arrive.

Standing there in silence, the sky kept changing while the wind gusted to at least 20 miles per hour and snow flakes fell.

Across the wetland, it was obvious that some had been preparing for temps such as today’s for the beaver lodge appeared to be well mudded and winter decorations set, only in need of holiday lights.

And speaking of Christmas, a surprise gift appeared under the beaver lodge trees . . . in the form of a male Hooded Merganser.

He moved to the right and then the left while the snowflakes fell and what struck me was how the reflection of his hooded crest resembled the surrounding birch trees.

From that place we drove to another for our quest continued. And it was in the second place that we smiled at the discovery of a neighborhood library.

But it was the water flowing behind the wee library that quickly diverted our attention. While we appreciated the structure over which it flowed, we didn’t realize its true significance until we traveled further down the trail.

Faded interpretive signs told the story of the past, but I only skimmed those. What I did learn was that the foundation upon which I stood had once been a powerhouse, thus the importance of the water flowing from above for saw mills, grist mills and such. And as I stood there, I noted the structures that once supported a penstock and then the location of a turbine that must have been situated within the powerhouse and I gave thanks to my friend Sue Black (RIP Sue) who long ago helped me gain a better understanding of these structures along Stevens Brook Trail in Bridgton, Maine. As serendipity would have it, her son, Andrew, had contacted me only a few hours earlier about an unusual natural sighting he’d made.

Climbing down to the penstock, it was well worth the effort to gaze toward the powerhouse below . . .

and flow from the dam above.

Around another bend south of the powerhouse, the water calmly mirrored its surroundings.

Oh yeah, the surroundings. We were supposed to be searching. And we did. Successfully, I might add. Actually, it was my guy’s thing to search and he was well rewarded.

Today, thanks to geocaching.com, he scored two discoveries, including this well-hidden micro. We still can’t believe the creative hide or the fact that we found it, though to be honest, we looked for a bit, thought about clues, went back to the truck to eat lunch and reconsider our strategy, and then headed out again. I was about ready to give up, when suddenly I heard him exclaim, “I found it.” I did have to explain to him about Muggles and the proper way to quietly announce a find a few minutes and feet away from making such a discovery.

As I suspected, he was hooked and is already talking about our next adventure. For both of us, we treasured the hunt and the finds we each made.

Juxtaposition

Outlined by nature’s tapestry . . .

the crystal ball offers consideration of things to come,

while nearby the brook falls,

chanting fervently on its eternal course.

Some drops choose to remain as frozen spirals,

and extend the reach of the last form touched.

This is a wild place,

where coyote and bobcat do roam.

And seedhead displays . . .

introduce zigzag patterns to match curious footsteps.

Others may make one hobble, but the slow down they encourage causes appreciation.

At the brook’s source, sunshine waves upon open water,

though half the pond shows off an icy coating that shouldn’t surprise.

Embedded within, a frozen summer flyer juxtaposes the seasons.

Bump in the Day

With Halloween only a few days away, the woods are alive with “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties, and all things that go bump in the night.” Well, maybe it’s supposed to be only the night, but during the day spirits certainly seem to make their presence known.

And their homes as well, this one serving as a mansion.

Sometimes they dance quietly from tree to tree or scamper loudly across the forest floor, but still others . . .

roar through the landscape with the flow of water.

In the mist, or midst, others are always there; you just need to look and listen. Do you see one watching?

As loudly as some may seem at times, with the look of an eye, they can quickly transform to sudden calm.

The ghoulies and ghosties of these western Maine woods come in all shapes and sizes, as do their homes.

And it’s those homes that can also leave one wondering. Who lives here?

Who could possibly live in this tree that despite its hollow trunk still produces leaves?

Why, one who often goes bump in the day. And the night. And loves to have fun in the woods.

Making Sense of Scents

Last week, while walking along a trail I later intended to share with some local kids, a subtle movement on the ground caught my attention.

My heart sang because I suspected I knew who I was looking at, but just the same, there were a few key characteristics that had to be acknowledged before I was one hundred percent confident.

You see, the first clues were the three buff-colored lines down its back. Between the lines, the keeled scales were quite dark. And this snake is known for its thin body and narrow, mahogany head.

But one of the most defining features, at least for me, is the whitish spot in front of each eye.

Do you see it? And the fact that there’s a line below separating it from the labial scales? Oh, and its lips are pure white.

These are examples of Ribbon Snakes, Thamnophis sauritus. In Maine, they are listed as a Species of Special Concern, which means this: “Any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors.” ~maine.gov.

I’ve had the good fortune of spying three or four this year, but always, I have to stop and think about the characteristics before feeling comfortable that I’ve made the correct identification.

I really wanted the kids in the Greater Lovell Land Trust/Lovell Rec afterschool program to see this snake when they arrived. We searched. But the best I could offer was the photos I had taken.

A much more frequent sighting is of one of the largest snakes in Maine–at least of the snakes that I have met. There are nine species of snakes in Maine, but in my encounters, I’ve only met five of them (and only have photos of four to share).

This species is happy on land or in the water and before you let the hair raise up on the back of your neck and think you may never swim in a Maine lake or pond again, in the 35 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve seen plenty, but never encountered one while swimming. Oh, I’m sure people have other stories to share, but that has been my experience.

That said, this is one LARGE snake and can measure up to 42 inches in length.

Coloration can vary from a base color of pale gray to dark brown.

Notice how the pattern looks like bands wrapped around the body as presented from behind the head, but then becomes more blotchy in appearance.

Meet Maine’s Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon, featuring a face only a mother could love.

I know some favorite haunts of Water Snakes and always look carefully because it can be well camouflaged.

One not camouflaged at all that my guy and I saw a few weeks ago on a Mondate, struck us as being out of its realm as it paused briefly on a granite ledge near the summit of a mountain upon which we hiked.

Its coloration gives away its common name: Smooth Green Snake. Smooth because unlike the first two snakes and the one I’m about to share, Green Snakes’ scales are not keeled. And its scientific name: Liochlorophis vernalis.

In my book of observations, I’ve only seen two Green Snakes ever–because they do look like their preferred grassier habitat.

The final snake of this series is the one I see most often. It might be sunning on a granite rock or searching for a meal in the kitchen garden.

Sometimes more than one crosses my path simultaneously.

And though it would be easy to mistake for a Ribbon Snake because of the buff-colored lines on its back, it isn’t. This snake has a stockier body and wider, olive-green head. Two other differences include dark marks along the edges of each labial (lip) scale, and of equal importance, no defined white spot in front of each eye. Oh, it’s pale yes, But scroll back up to the photo of the Ribbon Snake and see how they differ.

Also note how its coloration differs from one snake to another. Blotches between the stripes are common on this species but not a part of a Ribbon Snake’s appearance.

This is a Common Garter Snake: Thamnophis sirtalis.

So here’s the most exciting news of the day. Yesterday, before meeting with the same afterschool group as last week, I pre-hiked the trail. Suddenly, I walked into web as thick and sturdy as a fish net and bounced back with surprise. When I looked for the creators, I found three small spiders, who immediately went into action to fix what I had just ruined. I spent a few minutes watching them, then turned my attention back to the trail and just off to the left I spied this Garter Snake at eye level in an Eastern Hemlock sapling.

Snakes spend the fall basking in the sun because they are ecothermic, meaning they are cold-blooded and their body temperature varies with the environment. Mary Holland, in her Naturally Curious blog post today, described their fall/winter habits of Basking and Brumating.

When the kids arrived, I told them about my sighting–and we talked a bit about the differences between last week’s Ribbon Snake sighting and this week’s Garter Snake. And then we began our hike, stopping along the way to examine leaves, dig into the leaf litter as Forest Floor Archaeologists, and play with sticks cuze kids just love to play with sticks.

About two thirds of the way along the trail, exactly where I’d spied it two hours prior, the Garter Snake still posed. And the kids got to examine it. And wonder. And exclaim. They went in for a close-up look, thus the snake stuck out its tongue repeatedly in an attempt to get a better sense of who or what might be in its midst.

Snakes have poor eyesight and their hearing ability is limited. Thus they use their nostrils and tongues to pick up scents of prey or predator. By flicking the tongue, they collect odors that the forked prongs relay to two holes in the roof of their mouths, aka Jacobson’s organ. With information transferred from the organ to the brain, they can interpret scents.

For the kids and me, it was this sense: Best. Moment. Of. The. Afternoon.

For the snake: it decided we weren’t worth getting excited about as it made sense of our scents.

Real McCoy Mondate

We had no idea when we set out what today’s hike might involve. Oh, we’d read the trail description and studied the map, but still, other than it being six miles long and of moderate ability and owned by a land trust and located in western Maine, we knew nothing. Yikes, that sounds like a lot, but follow along and you’ll see what I mean.

Our goal these past months has been to hike less traveled trails. That said, we’ve done some old favs that are everyone’s favs, but we’ve also made some discoveries along the way and gotten to know our neck of the woods just a wee bit better. This was such a trail. It began much like a walk in a park.

Within moments it led us to a swimming hole that we might have enjoyed had the temperature been a wee bit warmer. But still . . . it was delightful and as the trail continued we soon realized the brook would accompany us for our entire journey, murmuring and gurgling with each step we took.

Periodically we crossed it via bridges new and old . . .

and listened as it sang–hearing it rejoice for the recent rain.

Along the path from the trailhead to the summit, Pearly Everlasting looked ready to enhance a winter bouquet.

Meanwhile, a Red Clover pretended it was still summer.

A little further on, many willows unwittingly played host to a gall gnat midge with plans to overwinter in a structure created by the reaction to a chemical released by the larva.

What would have been leaves were forced to harden into a pinecone-look-alike.

Those weren’t the only galls along the way. A small aphid, Melaphis rhois, laid an egg on the underside of a Staghorn Sumac leaf, causing it to secrete material that created a sac over the egg where a number of generations of aphids formed inside. For such small aphids, it’s a rather large gall.

And speaking of aphids–we actually saw some as we approached the summit.

Theirs was an assemblage bigger than any I’d ever encountered–each speck of Wooly Alder Aphid made up of a waxy, curly, white wool, excreted from the insect’s abdomen. While it always strikes me that the filaments keep them warm in the winter, actually they help keep the little creatures from being eaten.

Birds also enhanced the seen, though not so many today as might have been there a month or three ago. But still we heard a few and saw a nest perhaps created by a cardinal or catbird or another who built a cup-shaped structure about three feet off the ground.

And in the midst of the trail, one scat–left behind by a bobcat, segmented and tarry as it was.

An hour and a half and two miles after beginning, we reached the final lookout point where the view embraced the White Mountains to the west.

It was behind us that we met Mother Maple standing tall over all her offspring.

And back below, we followed the same brook as we crossed the road and watched it journey south toward its outlet. The brook that is.

It was there that we met Father Maple and wondered about all that he had seen and heard, the stories he knew and history he’d observed.

Upon an esker we did finally journey, our trail in constant change the entire way. That was part of what made it such a joy to hike.

For a few moments before our journey ended, we sat upon a bench and expressed our gratitude to the woman who wanted 400+ acres of her land conserved after her death, the land trust that did so and now manages the trails and built bridge crossings and even a few steps, and what we assumed were members of a local Congregational Church for providing a place of contemplation beside a river that the brook we’d followed emptied into.

Amazingly, we encountered only two people on the trail.

Ours was a real McCoy Mondate.

Stymied by Nature

To the vernal pool I wandered on this overcast, drizzly, rainy day.

I thought for sure I’d later expound upon the deciduous trees that surround it and their leaf colors for such was the carpet at my feet as it reflected the sky above, despite the lack of water in the pool.

But . . . it was the conifer trees that shouted quietly for my attention, their offerings much more subtle than their broad-leafed cousins. First, there was a firefly that made me wonder how he could move so quickly and gingerly in an upside down manner.

Take half a minute and watch his progress.

From the pine sapling I moved over to a hemlock on the far side of the pool. Something dark dangling below its branches begged to be inspected.

It was (is) about two inches long and felt almost leafy when I touched it. Protruding from it were several spikes that weren’t really sharp.

I looked at it from as many angles as I could. And found it curious that it appeared to be performing a split at its upside down base (meaning the top portion in the photo).

Some serious webbing held it in place and what appeared to be sap decorated it.

What could it be? I wondered if we’d ever been introduced before and like so many I’d forgotten its name. Perhaps a moth cocoon inside a spider web? Or a gall that dropped from a tree and got caught in the web? Or a spider egg sac? I looked for a spider and found one. Do you see it in the lower left-hand corner? Rather tiny compared to the alien object. Was the object an alien? Something from outer space? I suppose I could have split it open to see what it contained, but I decided to look around for others like it. And found absolutely none. Knowing that, I could hardly destroy it and so it’s still dangling from the hemlock and I’ll visit from time to time to see if the mystery solves itself. (Please don’t tell me if you know because that will ruin the fun of making a discovery.)

Oh, I did have one other thought, that it might be related to a hemlock cone gone awry, but when I stopped to look at cones on another tree, that theory didn’t make sense. It was there, however, that I spotted a flying insect that wasn’t flying. It, too, was a dangler.

Though my identification wasn’t definite, I suspected it was a member of the flower fly family. Curious enough, just moments before spotting the fly, I’d noticed a couple of blueberry flowers blooming. These are strange times, indeed.

A few more steps and I began to notice one I am familiar with: the tube created by a Pine-Tube moth. The larva ties needles together with silk as a form of protection in which to pupate. The tubes then get lined with more silk and are usually half as long as the needles because the larva eat the ends off. Though the larva may eat their way through several tubes over the course of a winter, I suspected this one was currently active because one needle stuck loosely out of the end. Inside, someone must have been dining.

And then . . . and then . . . I spied a small inch-worm type caterpillar. A Pine-Tube Moth larva?

Again, I wasn’t sure, but it seemed to display the right behavior.

I didn’t have all the answers today, but I know right where I met my acquaintances and hope that the next time we meet I’ll recognize them and perhaps will greet them by name. Chances are, though, that when I head out the back door to look for them, something else will shout quietly for attention and I’ll meet new things in the forest that will also leave me stymied by nature.

A Labyrinth: Four Syllables

Cir-cu-i-tous
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
Sacred journey.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Expanded view.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
See more clearly.
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
Know more deeply.
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
Stretch out the soul. 
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
Trans-for-ma-tion. 
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
Walk to wholeness. 
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
Meant to be here. 
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
Shape life's story. 
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
Life's metaphor. 
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
A labyrinth.
Cir-cu-i-tous.
Keep on breathing.

Lake Living: Fall/Winter 2020

Since 2006 I’ve had the extreme pleasure of working with editor and publisher Laurie LaMountain and graphic designer Dianne Lewis to produce Lake Living, Southern Maine’s Lifestyle Magazine.

As any issue is, this one is chock full of information about interesting people and places that make western Maine so special. Before I plug my own articles, I highly encourage you to read Laurie’s “Marking Time”–about a Veterinarian turned Clock Doc. Yup. And then there’s Perri’s “Full of Beans,” which is full of recipes, but also her inheritance. You have to read it to understand what I mean. There are also three articles about local interior designers, though I’m still biased and stand by Melissa, whom we used for our kitchen redo. And then there are the book reviews from Pam and Justin, Perri, and Sue at Bridgton Books. All worth a read.

I kinda think my articles are also worth a read. The first, “Before Suitcases,” is about a local woman named Connie, a former national sales manager at a footwear company who gives old trunks a new life.

“Every trunk is my baby,” says Connie.

“I take pride in what I do, and I love the end result.”

She treats each one as if it is going into her own home, which of course it can’t because there’s not enough room.

Have an old trunk hanging around that you’d like Connie to refurbish so you may use it as a decorative piece of furniture? You’ll have to read the article to get her contact info. Oh, and she ships around the globe so distance isn’t a hardship. 😉

And then there’s “A Partnered Project,” about Bridgton Historical Society and Loon Echo Land Trust and the newly created graded gravel walking trail that the two non-profit organizations have built.

The trail crosses by BHS’s Narramissic homestead and winds its way through LELT’s Peabody-Fitch woods. It’s a delight to walk and I hope a delight to read about because it also includes a wee bit of history.

For the wee bit more adventurous, there’s another trail that heads up to and circles through five old quarries.

The impetus behind the collaborative effort was this man who spends his free time mowing the fields at Narramissic: Jon Evans, LELT’s Stewardship Manager, and BHS’s vice president.

And the two guys who pushed forward through grants and other fundraising efforts to make it all happen, Ned of BHS and Matt of LELT, each organization’s executive director.

The overlap between the cultural and natural history brought these two organizations together in this partnered project and the end result is something everyone can benefit from whether young or old, agile or frail.

Please know that though the trails are open, this is a work in progress for both organizations and your financial support is needed.

But for me the crème de la crème of my articles is “Ready for Business,” about a local family who found a way around a babysitting issue during the current pandemic. Just as the Peabody-Fitch families operated a farm that included the children’s help at Narramissic in the late 1700s – early 1900s, the Warrens are currently doing the same. Bruce and Kyle Warren, the father/son team of Warren Excavation, were hired by BHS/LELT to build the gravel trail, and Kyle’s kids helped. Six-year-old Tillie and her younger sister quickly adapted to driving small trucks filled with dirt and gravel.

The pedals were adjusted so Hazel and Tillie could reach them. While at work they were all business. Though there were plenty of moments to play in the dirt and even a few special treats thrown into the mix.

Their two-year-old brother, Archer, was part of the management team, not saying much, but keeping an eye on all the action.

I had the pleasure of seeing the girls in action and walking beside them on the trail they’d help build. This place will always be a part of them, and that’s mighty special.

Lake Living Fall/Winter 2020

In my (un)biased opinion, the entire issue is mighty special. I do hope you’ll take time to savor it. And then support the local businesses that support the magazine (even if you are “from away,” you can still access some of them online) so we can continue to bring it to you for free. Remember to tell the business owners where you saw their ads.

Happy Reading.

Black, White, And Red Mondate

During our Staycation, my guy and I hiked a trail new to us that connects one mountain to another. Our intention had been to summit both that day, but because it took us some time to locate the actual trail head once we’d climbed two miles up a ski trail, we ran out of time to complete the route before turning around. At our turn-around point, we waypointed that spot on GPS knowing we’d return and actually looked forward to approaching from the opposite direction.

Today was that day. And so we signed in at the kiosk, and headed up the orange-blazed trail where many beech leaves had already fallen and enhanced our hike with the crunch they provided upon each step we took.

And where there are beech leaves, there are American Beech trees. And where there are beech trees, there might very well be bear claw marks. Though this has been a mast year for acorns and pinecones, it’s not been so for beech nuts, but by the pattern we spied, we knew that in the past this tree provided a few fine meals.

As the trail began to transition from beech and oak to spruce and fir, we found signs of another–perhaps a contemplator who got so lost in thought that he or she left behind a pair of fine specs. A few times in the past I’ve included finds such as this and the owners have been reacquainted with their losses. Perhaps these sunglasses will find their way home soon.

Though we didn’t wish away the hike as we ascended, we were eager to reach the point where the Black and White trail would depart to the right and knew when the substrate changed from packed trail, roots, and rocks to all granite, that it wouldn’t be long.

Indeed it wasn’t. Nor was the turn-around point. Ten minutes in, I looked at the GPS to see how much further we needed to go, and discovered we’d walked about 30 feet beyond the landmark we’d noted. We chuckled to think that a week ago we’d been soooo close.

A week ago, however, the Hobblebush did not look like this. That, in itself, was reason to give thanks that we’d ventured forth today.

Ten minutes later and we were back on the trail where more shades of red greeted us.

Some of it was pinkish in hue and I don’t think we’ve ever hiked past this perfectly split granite boulder without honoring its offerings.

Still, there was more trail to cover, so upward and onward we climbed.

At last we reached the summit and had another good chuckle. Along the way, we met one woman descending who rejoiced in the fact that today was her first day on this mountain. By the split rock, we watched as a younger man ran down the trail and shared with each other that that wasn’t a mode we would have chosen. But we both know those who like to run up and down. A wee bit further on, a man was taking a break as he sat on the granite and he, too, was amazed by the trail runner. It was also his first time to do this climb, and he asked my guy to take his photo. And then, as we stood at the summit and got our bearings with the mountains and man-made objects beyond, a woman approached and said, “I just need to touch that thing.” “Huh?” we thought. “What thing?” She pointed to the Geological Survey marker and we quickly moved out of her way. With one pole she touched it, said, “Now I can add it to the list,” and then pivoted and quickly began her descent. Her behavior drove home the fact that we all come to the mountains for different reasons and even if yours doesn’t make sense to us, it’s still yours.

One of our reasons for being there was to stand in the opposite position than we stood the first time we attempted the Black and White trail. Last week, we posed for a selfie below the radio tower viewed in the distance.

From the other summit, there wasn’t much of a view, but from today’s stance, the expanse was 360˚.

And so around . . .

and around . . .

I turned.

As we began the descent moments later, my guy took in his royal kingdom.

My kingdom was at a much smaller scale, and it was the scales of a Tamarack cone that stopped me in my tracks. Tamarack. Hackmatack. Larch. Call it what you want, but do give it a shout out–at least in our area because it’s always a treat to find such. This conifer (cone-bearer) had begun to show off its deciduous nature as its the only one of its type in which its leaves (needles) change colors as sugars are shut down and photosynthesis ceases, just like the broad-leaf trees.

Eventually, we turned right onto the yellow trail down, and it wasn’t far along when we encountered the last of our human counterparts–two women who had just spotted a Green Snake. A Green Snake near the summit. Another treat of the trail. One woman thought she could catch it, but as she moved in it quickly slithered away for its nature is on the shy side and due to its color you may have been near one more frequently than you know, but it would have been well camouflaged within the foliage it prefers.

Before we left the bald ledges behind, we reveled in the rich shades of red that will become candy in our minds’ eyes for months to come.

The foliage is different this year as a result of the drought and then an early frost, both of which should have enhanced it, but for some reason didn’t. That said, there is still spectacular color to be found, all of it seemly encapsulated in a Bigtooth Aspen leaf.

Nearing the end of our journey, we paused upon a bridge for a snack break: a Kind Bar for him and apple for me.

And it was there that we met the trail ambassador: Prince Charming. By the size of the Green Frog’s large external eardrums (tympanums) we knew it was a male. If the tympanum is larger than the eye, it’s a male. Smaller equals female.

The prince was the icing on the cake for this Black and White Mondate filled in with various shades of red . . . and topped off with a bear tree, a Tamarack, and a couple of shades of green, including one who let me massage his back. And I’m not talking about my guy!

A Layered Life

Perhaps some can walk in a straight line, but I’m not one of them. Even in our home, I find myself darting here and then there as one thought or another enters my mind and I need to check on this or look into that. So it was when I entered a wetland today.

My journey began with a destination toward a certain coppiced (many trunked) Red Maple but I knew ahead of time that I’d divert from the path that didn’t exist and scramble through the Buttonbush shrubs to visit a kettle hole that is groundwater dependent. Only two weeks ago, it was filled with much more water and I was surprised to find it so low today. And thrilled.

Behind the first “hole” or kettle is a second and between the two: tracks galore. The baby-hand look gave away the ID of the most frequent travelers: Raccoons.

But . . . where two weeks ago some friends and I spied Black Bear prints, today I noted the track of a large moose that had headed in the opposite direction of my foot. If you look carefully from the bottom of the photograph to the top left-hand corner, you’ll see three dark indentations, giving a sense of size: Mighty big.

After enjoying the first kettles for a while, I decided to bushwhack toward another. Again, my path was a zigzag and again the ground water was significantly lower. Why? Given that we finally had rain this week, I expected it to be higher, but by the state of the leaves on the trees, and the color of the plant life, it’s obvious that the drought has truly affected the landscape. Because of all the undergrowth and downed trees and branches that snap as one walks, I was hardly quiet in my approach, thus several Wood Ducks sang their “oo-eek, oo-eek” song as they took flight.

That was ok, for still I stood in silent reverence and thought about the soils under the water and how it must differ from that under the American Bur-reed, and how that soil must differ from that under the Buttonbush and Winterberry shrubs, and how that soil must differ from that under the Red and Silver Maples.

Pulling away at last, I journeyed forth in a continued erratic fashion, made even more erratic by the shrubs that acted like Hobblebush and persisted in trying to daunt my procession. Each foot had to find placement among branches only to then be confronted by fallen trees that don’t decompose so readily in this acidic neighborhood.

The obstacles were unsuccessful in pulling me to a complete stop and at last I arrived. Well, I’m not sure I’ll ever really arrive . . . anywhere. But I reached a point on my quest and zigzagged through the grasses and Leatherleaf and Swamp Candles. Once again, it was obvious by the plant life that the soil composition differed from one zone to the next.

Meandering about, occasionally I heard a slight “pop” at my feet.

You see, growing upon the Sphagnum Moss are thousands of Cranberry plants and I spent some time picking from the offerings, though I did note many soft ones–the result of last week’s frost. Still, they’ll make a good relish or sauce.

And in the same community, though a bit closer to the water and therefore finding a home on a soil that probably differed a bit from that which the cranberries preferred, a few robust Pitcher Plants showed off their always intriguing leaves and flowers gone by.

The now woody structure of this carnivorous plant is as interesting as the plant’s way of seeking nutrients in hydric (low-oxygen) soils. Though the petals had long since fallen, the round, five-celled fruit remained intact. The rusty-brown seed capsule, about ¾ inch in diameter, had begun to split open and exposed within were numerous seeds. Upon a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one observing this unique structure.

Do you see the teeny, tiny black and white insect? It wasn’t there for pollen, and so I began to wonder.

Would the insect eventually find its way down to the pitcher-shaped leaves and be enticed by the terminal red-lipstick lips, nectar glands, and brightly colored veins?

Would it follow the downward-pointing hairs into the trap below and not be able to crawl back out?

Would it become a snack, much as the insect in the water of the leaf on the left? You see, once the prey slides down through the hairs, it reaches a smooth zone where it encounters some sticky goo, thus making it even more difficult to climb out. And then, there’s the water, rainwater. It is there that the insect drowns, and is digested by bacteria and enzymes in the water. The resulting nutrients are then absorbed by the plant that grows in a habitat low in essential nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Actually, the tiny insect might not become a meal because it just might be a Pitcher-plant Midge, who has anti-enzymes to counteract the digestive enzymes in the fluid, and feeds on the plant’s decomposed insects. There’s also a type of mosquito and flesh fly that survive in the same manner.

Mostly hidden by other plant forms, another Pitcher Plant grows a few feet away, but its leaves are much greener due to its shadier habitat.

As I looked at the plants at my feet, suddenly I heard the bugling, rattle-like sound of Sandhill Cranes. Take a listen.

Rather than return via the “path” I’d created into the bog, I had to go in search, certain that I might be disappointed.

I was so certain I’d be disappointed because my approach was rather loud.

At last I reached the edge of the largest kettle of all. And scanned the scene.

Suddenly to my right three large birds emerged from behind the Buttonbush. I’d found the cranes. But as I fumbled switching cameras, they flew off, rattling all the way.

Still, there was more movement where they had been and for a few seconds I watched three Greater Yellowlegs Sandpipers until they also flew off.

And so I began to wander back, at times totally uncertain of my whereabouts, though by the sky and trees ahead I thought I was headed in the correct direction. Still, it felt rather jungle-like among so many Winterberries. The curious thing: two weeks ago there had been many other berries including Witherod or Wild Raisin. Apparently the birds that I heard all around me had been feasting.

A flock of Northern Flickers darted here and there. I know they are seed eaters, but they’ll also eat fruits. Perhaps it was they? And so many others in the midst of migration.

I know it wasn’t the Great Blue Heron who suddenly flew up into a tree and preened. His intention would have been on the aquatic life in the kettles.

Adding my stomach growls to the scene, I knew it was time for me to depart. Still I stood, taking it all in.

A layered life. Where hours pass like moments. And life transpires while fruits form.

I am grateful to wander and wonder and wonder and wander some more.

Finding Balance

When I suggested to my guy a couple of months ago that we might take a vacation in September, he gave me that dubious look I know so well. “It’ll be a staycation,” I said. “And what will we do?” he asked.

We’ll sit on the patio and drink beer crafted just for such occasions.

We’ll work on house projects including rebuilding the water feature.

And share some trails with our youngest who will travel north with his gal.

Along the way we’ll notice bobcat scat.

And lowbush blueberries turned red.

At the summit we’ll spy cotton grass growing where we least expect it.

And from the summit we’ll spy our hometown mountain on the horizon.

Descending via a different trail, we’ll help our young guy develop his bear claw tree eyes.

And we’ll take a few minutes to explore a pool emerald green.

In our own woodlot, we’ll reclaim the trails we made so long ago.

And build mammal condominiums for the little brown things that live in these woods.

At the end of one day after she’s finished working from “home,” aka camp, we’ll watch as our young guy and his gal prepare a delicious meal for us.

And I’ll be thrilled that both of you will know to take off your hats before we begin dining.

Early one morning we’ll climb that hometown favorite, which we’ve avoided for the past seven months.

And at the summit we’ll take turns posing.

Another day the two of us will climb up a ski trail where X may mark the spot but we still won’t be sure if we’re in the right place for the hiking trail we seek.

Still, we’ll poke around at the summit where lots of cell towers stand and locate a view of our intended destination in the background.

Finally, rather by accident, or will it be serendipity, we’ll discover a sign that will lead us into the woods we sought.

We’ll follow the trail for several miles but give ourselves a turn-around time and not worry about reaching the other end and finish up late in the day with eleven miles behind us.

On the way back via the same trail, we’ll discover one of the best bear claw trees ever.

At some point we’ll watch our youngest hop back onto his unicycle and ride again.

While doing more yard/house work, we’ll watch a Pileated Woodpecker . . .

excavate an old tree in search of food.

And then I’ll add pink polka-dots to the house because I always wanted to live in a pink polka-dotted house.

And you’ll pull out all the power tools you can, while I repaint the barn door green.

You’ll also straighten out the barn, creating piles for the dump store and burn pile, and then creating sections much like your hardware store.

Among your projects, you’ll rebuild a couple of shutters to give the house a completed look.

Simultaneously, I’ll spend hours reading, knitting, and creating something that didn’t occur to me until mid-week: a labyrinth in our woods.

In the end, you’ll continue to know that I’ll follow you anywhere.

And by the same token, I’ll always be proud and happy to stand beside you.

As our staycation comes to a close, we’ll again sit on the patio and sip beers while reminiscing about the week that you doubted and you’ll share how much you loved it and I’ll do the same as we each name three things that we found most meaningful as is our tradition at the end of a vacation and we’ll add more to the discussion and give thanks for the time that we shared together, with our youngest son and his gal, and doing our own thing. We won’t want the time to end, but will give thanks that we both love our jobs, which will help ease the transition back to reality.

We won’t know when the week starts that it’s balance we sought, but by the end we’ll find it . . . or maybe it will find us.

Summer Falls

Today dawned the chilliest in a while with 29˚ registering on the thermometer at 6am. But as these September days do, it warmed up a bit and I didn’t need my gauntlet mittens, aka hand-made wrist warmers, for long.

As I ventured forth, I noticed, however, that the fairies had worked like crazy and prepared for the temperature and their beds were well covered.

Further along, Cinnamon fern fronds curled into themselves as is their manner at this time of year, but really, it looked like they had donned caterpillar coats in an attempt to stay cozy. So named cinnamon for the color of their separate fertile frond in the spring, the late season hue also sings their common name.

Upon another stalk that also appeared cinnamon in color, paused a Swamp Spreadwing Damselfly, its days diminishing as its a summer flyer.

For a while, I stood in an area where Bog Rosemary and Cotton Grass grow among a variety of others. One of those others blooms late in the season and added a tad bit of color to the display.

As I wandered, I wondered. Where are the pollinators? For the early hours I suspected they were tucked under the flowers, but eventually the day warmed enough and the action began and no one was busier than this Bumblebee.

Maybe that’s not entirely true, for Hover Flies did what they do: hovered. And occasionally landed.

Notice the hairy fringe? Hover or Drone Flies as they are also known, mimic bees in an attempt to keep predators at bay. Perhaps the hair also keeps the cold temp from tamping down their efforts?

Crossing streams more than several times, Water Striders skated while the tension between feet and water created reflections of the still green canopy and blue sky. And do you notice the tiny red water mites that had hitched a ride on the strider?

Meandering along, the natural community kept changing and so did the plant life. One of my favorites, Hobblebush, spoke of three seasons to come: autumn’s colorful foliage, winter’s naked buds a bit hairy in presentation, and spring’s global promise of a floral display forming between the buds.

One might think this was a serene hike in the woods and through the wetlands. One would be slightly wrong. Ah, there were not man-made sounds interrupting the peace, but the grasshoppers and cicadas did sing, birds did forage and scatter and forage some more, and red squirrels did cackle. A. Lot.

Perhaps their dirty faces indicated the source of their current food source: white pine seeds. It certainly looked like sap dripped from facial hairs.

And I’m pretty sure I heard a request for sunflower seeds and peanuts to be on the menu soon.

I wandered today beside a muddy river,

through a Red Maple swamp,

and into a quaking bog.

In each instance it was obvious: Summer falls . . . into autumn. It’s on the horizon.

May the Wonder Never Cease

I’m pretty sure everything others and I see are ordinary, but we manage to make them extraordinary because we feel like we’ve been honored with gifts when we notice them. And so it has happened that in the last three days I’ve had the opportunity to notice some rather mundane sights.

First, there was the Solitary Sandpiper foraging for insects in a kettle bog. I was with six others and we weren’t exactly silent as we stood by the muddy margin of the water, and yet the bird never acknowledged our presence, but we were certainly in awe of its company.

In that same space a Catbird crying its meow calls also foraged and our eyes flickered from one to the other as we tried to keep track of their movements.

It wasn’t just “our” feathered friends who garnered our attention for we love mud and happened to be standing in some and what’s mud without mammal prints? As in . . . Black Bear prints.

Indeed. We even took time to measure the straddle or distance from the outside of the hind print on the left-hand side of Ursus Americanus’ body to the far side of its front foot print–about 20 centimeters in total. Also in the corridor, prints of raccoons a many, and a fox.

Though bears and raccoons and foxes may all be omnivores, taking advantage of whatever meal might be available in the moment, there were a few carnivores in the mix–including the most beautiful of all: Pitcher Plants with their tree of life decorated pitcher-style leaves.

One more carnivore who had somehow survived being consumed by a bird or another member of the Odonata family also honored us–in its last moments of life: a Sedge Darner Dragonfly.

We studied its markings on both abdomen and face, which helped in identification, and then watched as it cocked its head and let forth one last sigh. We were there for it in the moment and now it rests upon my desk.

If that wasn’t enough, the next day three of us walked another large swath of land in the same vicinity and one among us with a keen eye spotted this little gem upon a Bracken Fern. (Thanks M.Y.) The baby Gray Tree Frog was not larger than a Spring Peeper and it struck us that it was a wee bit cold as the morning had dawned and indeed when we passed by again an hour and a half later, it was still in the same position, though as we approached we did notice it move, so we knew it had more life in it than the Sedge Darner.

In the same woodland, we spied a Hermit Thrush, who made itself know not by its melodic song that we enjoyed for much of the summer, but rather by its behavior as it stood upon the stump and then darted to the ground as it foraged before hopping back on the stump. These swaths of land–how important they are to support all of this wildlife that needs each other to survive. And us to notice so that we don’t go crazy and alter the land so much that they lose their habitat.

Today, the offerings continued. And in the midst of some important information being shared about a conserved property, a wee Painted Turtle was spotted. The acorns offered a certain sense of size.

You know how puppies seem to need to grow into their paws? That’s how I felt about this turtle. Not only did it have to grow into its feet and claws, but also its head. And then there was the attitude as exhibited on its face, though that may have had something to do with the fact that a bunch of us were in its space and we tried once or twice to reroute it, but it had its own idea of a mission and really, who are we to tell it where to go?

One might think that all of that was enough. But . . . was it? Well, in another space that is a private property under conservation easement, a metallic Oil Blister Bug made itself known.

It’s not one known to fly and if you take a closer look, you’ll note that its wings are rather limited given its overall size. But that color. Oh my!

The crème de la crème, however, may not be the clearest photo, but it was the coolest find of all: a black Eastern Chipmunk. One other and I had been listening to a Barred Owl call when we heard the sound of scampering nearby.

I’ve been receiving reports of the black chipmunk’s existence in the area the past few weeks, but was still totally surprised to make its acquaintance at least a half mile or more away from where others had seen one. Is there more than one?

As I understand it, the black color is caused by too much of the pigment melanin, which with elevated amounts results in dark skin, feathers, scales, or in this case, fur.

From the ordinary to the extraordinary, may the wonders never cease.